Sunday, July 7, 2013

The Rise of Ultra Magnus

I can remember when Ultra Magnus was a sought after figure due to the G1 movie, back when I was a kid. His toy was a white-colored version of Optimus Prime that fit inside a much larger suit of armor, which was formed from his semi trailer. But somehow he was left with just one figure to his name for years after that initial outing. Then Robots In Disguise was released in the US, which was a re-dub of a Japanese Transformers cartoon. Ultra Magnus was back again, and as well armored as before. Since then he's been re-appearing in a number of the Transformers lines, either as recolors of the Prime toy, or completely new molds all to himself.

Today I ran across the Transformers Prime: Beast Hunters Voyager-sized version of Magnus, which is partly a Prime re-color, but with a number of new parts added in. He has a new head, shoulder-mounted missile launchers, and the Forge of Solus hammer (albeit in silver, not the bronze/gold of the cartoon or the box the toy came in). Most of the body is from an earlier mold of Prime, but there are enough new bits to make him worth picking up, at least for me. There have been enough versions of Ultra Magnus to date that he's almost reached the "group" status on my collection shelves. That's the point where I have enough of one figure from different lines to put them all in one spot dedicated to just that character, without it looking odd.

Here he is in robot mode. It's a very nice look, especially with the wings/blades in the back and the shoulder cannons armed. In fact, I've started calling him Bat-Magnus due to the shape of the wings and the back panels when looking at him head-on.

The transformation from robot to vehicle isn't hugely difficult, but it isn't documented very well in the instruction manual. There's one picture showing how to fold his arms and shoulders down under the top of his chest plate to form the hood and top of the cab... it really should have been two or three shots of the various twists of the elbows, shoulders, and shoulder pads to get it to look like the one diagram they provided. The vehicle mode looks pretty good by itself, but suffers from the massive kibble sticking out the back with his shoulder weapons, jetpack/wings, and hammer all jammed together into a lump on the back. But the front of the cab snaps together quite well, without large gaps or obvious seams when you look at it from the front. It just isn't the mode I'd keep him in for very long.

So robot mode is definitely my favorite, but I have to say that the hip joints on my figure are far too loose. He can still stand by himself, but if he was on a surface any slicker than my computer table he'd be in danger of forever doing the splits. It's unfortunate from a play perspective, but not something I'm worried about for display purposes right now.

In the end, I'm happy with this guy, and glad he appeared on the shelves at my local Target this weekend! He's a great representation of the character from the Prime cartoon that's finishing up this season, and should look great with the other Mangus (Magnuses? Magnusi? Magni?) figures in my collection when they're all back in place. For now, just a quick shot of him with the few figures I still have out of storage:

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Cybertronian Kre-Onation

The Kreon Transformer mini-figures are just awesome. It's been so much fun opening the latest single-figure packs and putting the little guys together to arrange on the desk! The larger Lego-like kits are pretty cool too, but it's definitely the mini-figures I've been attracted to. I can't wait to have space to put them all together again on the grey base plates I have in storage... I think I'm going to need one or two more plates, the way the collection has been growing!

Lugnut is definitely a favorite from this "series 2" release of micro-changers. I liked the character from the Animated series, and absolutely loved both of the toy figures Hasbro came out with. His mini-me looks just as sweet!

Another cool design is Hardshell, who is actually a micro version of the G1 Bombshell character. I just like how the face and the pincers at the back work together. One thing I did find a bit annoying was that the hands on this guy have the slight angle on the wrists, which means that the gun he came with doesn't sit straight against the arm unless you turn the hand upside-down.

Bulkhead is another favorite character from the Animated series. I actually preferred the character there to the current one in the Prime series, but he isn't bad there. The miniaturized version is a pretty close match, just missing the larger chest to make him a perfect match. 

Perceptor was a toy I didn't get in my main Transformer collection until his re-release a little while back. I liked the figure, despite the lack of articulation back then, because he was a scientist with a shoulder cannon... that's just cool. His Kreon namesake is really well executed, getting that shoulder cannon into such a small package.

There's also Powerglide... somehow he always felt like the knock-off character in the cartoon series. The Decepticons had the fast jets, and he was a slightly under-powered glider instead. But I still like how the Kreon version came out, with the swept-back wings just like the G1 toy.

The others in the series (Blight, Arcee, Groove, Acidwing, Hoist, Vehicon, and Scourge) are awesome in their own small ways, I just don't want to fill up the blog with a long line of photos that you can find with a Google search these days. All-in-all, I really, really like these guys, and I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the line has a long and happy future ahead of it! I'll keep spending my money on 'em, they just have to keep making 'em!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Transformer Collecting to the Maximus

It's been over 25 years since Fortress Maximus was originally released by Hasbro in the US. He was a 2-foot tall monster of a figure, towering over anything else that had been released to that point (or since). I remember getting his opposite number, Scorpinok, for Christmas that year, which was an amazing toy as well. But the closest I was ever able to get to Fort Max was in photos in magazines, and later online. I never managed to see one of these in person. Until last week!

Getting Fortress Maximus was usually a very expensive ordeal, especially if you wanted a complete figure with all the original parts. The standard price on eBay for years, for an opened but complete figure was between $800-$900. So I had given up on ever having him in my own collection, particularly since I don't play the lottery. But amazingly Takara-TOMY, the Japanese side of the Transformer brand, decided to re-release the figure again, at a much more affordable price! So, after a long wait for it to be produced, then shipped overseas, then delivered to me, I now present the towering Headmaster - Fortress Maximus:

He really is as big as the pictures make him out to be, and never would have fit on my shelves in my collection room in the old house! It's almost comical how large the figure is, especially when transforming him. The legs fold together to make part of the back of the "city" mode of the figure, and I found myself wedging one section under my arm and another under my chin just to get the leverage I needed to ratchet the leg up at the hip joint. Changing modes on this guy was a whole new experience! 

I was slightly anxious to get this guy in my hands. I mean, the technology that went into it is over 25 years old, so it isn't exactly the most pose-able figure ever. But once he was out of the box and sitting on my desk, I didn't care how long ago he was designed. He's still an awesome feat of plastic engineering! 

So now I have to make plans for the collection room in the new house to actually fit this guy in somewhere... plus, he's been the largest Transformer toy for 25 years, BUT there's a new version of Metroplex coming out in a few months that's just a tiny big taller still! So I guess I'll need to plan two spots for the giants to loom over everyone else. 

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Generations Springer and Blitzwing quick review

So it's been WAY too long since my last post here. I'll see if I can make this happen more frequently going forward.

Since my last post I've watched my collection count run back up over the 1,000 mark again. Part of that is due to the Kre-O line of figures, which are just awesome! I've been doing everything I can go make sure I get all of the micro-figure releases, and I have most of the larger kits prior to the Beast Hunters line. The micro-changer combiner figures are just awesome! I can't wait to have display space again to put my diorama back together.

So one of the major changes in my life recently has been a move to a new(ish) town. We sold our house just a month back now, and we've been in the planning stages to build another home in our new location. That meant that my collection had to come down and get stored for a year again. There are 14 grey Rubbermaid totes in various locations with the majority of my figures again. Sadly, there's even a Generations Voyager Grimlock and Blaster still in their boxes in the back of a storage unit that I won't be able to get to until the house is built... but the collection continues anyway!

So this post is primarily focused on the latest Voyager figures from the Generations line, the resurrected triple-changers Springer and Blitzwing. Pardon the quality of the camera shots, I'm using my cellphone camera at this point.

I was really excited to see triple-changers come back into production, and was really happy to see the three-faced featured from Animated Blitzwing show up in this figure! After finding the toys locally, I'm still happy to have them in my collection, but disappointed in some of the execution of the two toys.

My first slight disappointment came when changing Springer from robot mode into his car mode. The final vehicle looks ok, but the problem is with the tolerances needed on the parts. For this vehicle to really look as good as it should, there are a number of small pegs that supposedly snap together along the side panels and the front windshield/windows. Unfortunately, due to the slight variances you get in mass producing a toy, the pegs and slots just don't line up well enough to stay together. They're pretty close, and one side of the vehicle looks great, but the other side just keeps popping apart near the back fender. There were similar pieces in the helicopter mode, particularly the flap just behind the rotor blades that has two ridges that should snap into the back of the legs. It just doesn't work, no matter how I shift the pieces around. So, ultimately, the vehicle modes look nice if you don't touch them, or look too close at the places parts join together. He's much better in robot mode!

Blitzwing didn't have quite the same tolerance issues, but instead has extremely loose hip joints and the ball joints in his feet. He's able to stand on his own right now, but just barely. If I were to transform him a dozen or so times, I have a feeling that would degrade even further. I can fix the feet with a bit of super glue, but the hip joints are pegs that would take much more effort to try to update. So, he's been changed to tank and jet modes once, and that's probably all he'll ever get.

Of the two figures, Springer does the best job of pulling off two separate vehicle modes that look good. His armored car looks like a Cybertronian version of the Tumbler from the Batman movies. His copter mode is a bit chunky, but still pretty solid.

Blitzwing, unfortunately, needs some imagination to overlook the gaps left in his tank mode, and the way the turret swivels from the wrong point entirely. The jet mode is better, but still has some big holes left when you look at it from various angles. And his head... it's on a spring to allow it to push down and be covered by the nose cone. But when it's popped out in robot mode, it's loose enough to make him look like a bobble-head! My second gripe was about his face-change feature. The instructions show a red arrow to push the face upward to switch to the next one. Wrong! Trying to push up just jams the face behind it into the back of the helmet, doing nothing. Pushing it down is the only way to get it moving correctly, which caused me quite a bit of frustration. I ended up taking the screw out of the side of his helmet and taking the whole thing apart to figure it out... it was either that or I was about 30 seconds away from snapping his neck trying to get the face to turn the wrong way.

So, they're solid buys for people that like the triple-changer aspect of toys, and don't really mind vehicle modes that aren't all that convincing in places. Just be aware that there may be joint issues with Blitzwing, and be prepared to have panels that don't really lock together as well as they should. If you're fans of the characters, definitely a good buy! If you want solid playability in your figures, these really aren't the best.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Back down, looking up again

I really need to post more often to this blog. I'll try to keep a better record of what I'm collecting going forward. So, the big change since my last post here is that I've reduced the number of figures on my shelves. A few months ago, around the time the DOTM Ultimate Optimus Prime figure was hitting the stores, I did some basic re-arranging of my collection. I needed a space at the top of my shelving to hold Ultimate Op, since the top shelves were the only ones tall enough to accommodate him. In doing so, I ended up with two empty spots in the lower shelves, both around two feet wide. Now, I've packed my figures shoulder-to-shoulder, usually around four-deep, just to leave that space. I had almost reached the point that I'd no longer be able to display all of my collection at once.

After some thought, I decided that there wasn't any point in having part of a collection that would sit in a box, just rotated out with other figures from time to time. I really like having everything out on display together. So, ultimately, I decided to part with some of them. I did a few rounds of wandering along all of my shelves and pulling out figures that I couldn't remember the name of, or had no real significance in my memory. Figures that weren't in any of the comics or TV shows, or just didn't have interesting transformations. I even made the decision to part with the majority of my Mini-Con group. All in all, I set aside somewhere around 100 figures that I sold together as a lot.

It wasn't the easiest thing to do, but what surprised me the most was that it also wasn't really all that hard to do. I like my collection, and It's something that has always been fun for me to add to. But ultimately, it's not about having ever increasing numbers of toys. Whatever number I end up with, I'm happy if they all display well and have some sentimental value attached. So that's my plan going forward. When I get up around the 1K mark again, it will be time for another reduction round.

It took another few evenings to re-sort my collection on the shelves after selling off the extras. But it let me group the majority of the figures in sections based on the series they belonged to. The Transformer brand has usually had a "core" line of figures with specific branding that they run for a couple of years before switching to something new. It's often tied up with what's running on TV or in the theaters. So there have been a couple of years of "Transformers: The Movie" movie toys. Then "Revenge of the Fallen" toys. Followed by "Dark of the Moon" toys. Before that were a couple of years of "Animated," "Energon," "Cybertron," "Armada," "Robots In Disguise," and so on. There are also some sub-lines that get wedged in between, or mixed in with, the main lines. Each of those typically have an Optimus Prime figure and his opposite. Mostly Megatron, but not always. At any rate, that cycle lets collectors like me group our collections together into something that at least seems logical to us. I've finally managed to do that with my own stuff. The only exception is for characters that I have a number of different versions of.

Some characters have been re-used at different times through the different lines. None as often as Prime or Megatron, but there are still some stand-outs. Those include Bumblebee, Starscream, Soundwave, Grimlock, Thundercracker, Hot-Rod, and others. When I manage to collect six or seven of the same character from different lines, I group them together on their own. I've always been interested in seeing how the same character can be made to look distinctly different, but still have the core remain the same.


Swarm of the Bumblebees



Grimlock (left) and Hot-Rod (right):

Swarm of the Bumblebees


Swarm of the Bumblebees

So that's my collection status. I'm somewhere just shy of the 900 mark again, but with the Prime line hitting the stores now, I'm sure it will move upwards again soon. Not as quickly as in the past, since I don't think I'm ever going to feel the need to collect an entire "line" again, but it will still grow. Til' all are one (thousand)!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Watching Transformers Dark of the Moon

There are a few spoilers to the movie in here, if you haven't watched it yet. So, just be warned.

I went to to the third of Mr. Bay's Transformers trilogy over the Fourth of July weekend. I managed to get to the 3D showing early on Friday afternoon, avoiding the weekend crowds that were such an issue the last time my wife and I went to a new flick. I have to say that the 3D was done very well, in my opinion. It wasn't something done to make you notice it, but rather just blended into the background. It was like having the bass in the soundtrack. You can still listen without it and get a good experience, not really noticing it's gone at times. But by adding it in, you get that extra dimension to the experience. The 3D was the same. I'm still going to enjoy watching the Blu-Ray in 2D later down the road, and won't feel like something's missing, thanks to how they didn't over-sell it's use. You know the ones that push it, having things fly out of the screen directly at you, like at the amusement park rides. I never had that feeling here.

As I tried to put into words at the time, I have some difficulty talking about what I think of the Transformers movies. The third one wasn't any different, by the time it was over. Being a big Transformers fan, in general, it almost feels like a duty to say that I liked the film, just because it's about Transformers. And I did enjoy the film. It's just that I always feel like I'm not the right person to ask that question of, because I'm probably much more particular about it than a casual viewer would be. Or, realizing that I might be too particular, I may end up over-compensating and say that it was awesome despite some flaws that actually made it less than great. So I just don't know how reliable my views on the film would be for most people that would ask me.

So, I'll stick with some generalities here. The look of the Transformers was as awesome as ever. The over-the-top performances of some of the characters (as in, no person in real life acts that oddly) was the same as the first two movies. The mythology was expanded, and we managed to see more characters than ever on the screen. The big complaint most people have was the lack of plot, and I have to agree that it was something I missed. I didn't realize it while watching the film, but thinking about it later, there just wasn't much of a story. In fact, there was more interesting interaction and plot between the humans this time than the Transformers. It was almost like they bolted a war with giant robots around the lives of Sam and Carly. Prime, Ironhide, Megatron, Shockwave, etc... they just didn't feel like they were soldiers working together to take over or defend the planet. The just felt like individuals with bit parts in the story. It's still a great summer movie, something to watch while eating pop-corn and beating the summer heat in an air-conditioned theater. It just won't win any awards on the story.

So, majority of the movies I really liked. It's great to have something that's been a hobby of mine for such a long time get such main-stream adoption. It's very cool that the movies continue to rake in good money. I plan to re-watch the films a number of times through the coming years. Now, for the detailed view:

Overall, taking all three movies into account, there are just two things that I really didn't like about how it all turned out. The first is the mythology of the Transformers. You see, in the cartoon and comic book, the Transformers are these almost immortal creatures that came from way off in outer space. They crashed on Earth back when the dinosaurs were still around, but were still functional when a volcano eruption brought them back in modern times... now, those are some tough bots! And the inclusion of such a long period meant that you could have all kinds of cool mythology about what was happening on Cybertron while the big leaders of the major war were suddenly MIA, and energy was dwindling on the home planet. It also meant that the death of a character was a major thing, with how long their life spans could potentially be. Distance also seemed much larger. I don't recall if it was ever really mentioned in the 'toon or comic how far away Cybertron was, but the only way to get there was eventually through a space bridge. It wasn't like they were close enough to make a solo-trip in a few weeks through space. That kind of forced isolation made the story interesting. They couldn't just head back home if the going got tough, they were stuck here.

In the movies? In the last film, especially, it seemed that the war on Cybertron was pretty recent. That when the Allspark and Megatron were lost in space, it wasn't all that long ago. Sentinel crashing onto the moon happened in the 70's, when our space program was just getting started. So, Megatron and the Allspark wouldn't have fallen to earth much earlier than that. Megatron was found, in the first film, around 1897. My guess is that the writers would have placed planet-fall just a hundred or so years earlier, at the most. I mean, if Megatron and Sentinel made a deal to meet up later, they couldn't have been separated in planet-fall by very much time. So, that means that the whole war on Cybertron was still going critical from when Megatron was lost and when Optimus Prime showed himself for the first movie. Comparing a few hundred years in the movies to a few million years in the comic books just takes away some of the mystique of the race for me. The sense of age, of wisdom, and weariness that Prime would have after thousands of years of war just didn't translate to the same figure after a hundred years. It also seemed like the distances involved weren't that big either. I mean, the Decepticons managed to find Earth for the first time in the first movie, right? So, by the third movie, six or so years later, they had built up an army to hide on the back of the moon? That means that slower-than-light transport between our two planets can't take too long, so they must be fairly close together. The feeling of the Transformers really being marooned on a backwards (to them) planet was lost when I thought through that aspect. Another piece of the mystique removed from the original series.

Second, and this one is my biggest issue with the trilogy, was the portrayal of Megatron. I'm a kid that grew up with the cartoon Megatron having grandiose plans that, yes, were always foiled by Prime, but were major plans nonetheless. They had scope and scale that only a big-time villain could pull off. Beast Wars gave us a Megatron that was not only able to think big (going back in time to find the Ark? That's a massive plan!) but was cunning and deceitful even in the little plans for defeating the Maximals. Both were strong, capable leaders that you wouldn't want to cross without Prime on your side.

In the movie? Well, Megatron's last words to Prime were along the lines of "After all, what would you be without me?" Any my almost instant reaction was "Meh. You won't even be missed." I mean, sure, give some credit for the writers giving him a plan to warp Cybertron into Earth orbit, that's a pretty big plan. But how he acted? He was like one of his processor-damaged flunkies from the cartoon series. He didn't have a plan to back-stab Sentinel Prime until a fleshling took him to task? Seriously? He just seems to be as effective an evil genius as a paper bag. I really do rate how heroic Prime and the Autobots are against how devious their counterparts are. How difficult it really is to defeat them. In those respects, Prime didn't have much of a challenge.

Also, Megatron groveling to the Fallen in the second movie? Megatron answers to no one! He mouthed off to a frickin' planet eating planet in the cartoon movie! Good grief. They should have called him Neutertron instead.

So, those are my thoughts on the movie, a week later. I probably won't see it in the theater again, but will definitely have the Blu-ray for my collection soon after it's released. Letting go of my fanboy view of the Transformers, they were a lot of fun to watch. I just hope they get more plot in the next ones, whenever they get made.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Gotta buy 'em all... if they can be found

We (that is, Transformers collectors) seem to be in a new situation this month. It's been building for a while now, ever since the demise of the Transformers Animated toyline. For those unfamiliar with how these things go, Hasbro will plan out a line of toys for a season or year. Usually, those toys tie in to a show or movie. So, each year we've had a movie, toys appear a month or two in advance based on the movie characters. Between movies, we've had toys based on a couple of TV cartoons as well as a series of "classic" characters that are from shows of years past.

Well, lately some of the toys that are created for a series don't make it onto the shelves in the stores before another series or movie takes over... so, there were around half a dozen toys created for the Animated TV cartoon that didn't get wide distribution in the U.S. because the second Transformers movie came out before they could be shipped. We (again, collectors) were somewhat lucky that stores like Toys R Us decided to take those and sell them as "exclusives" that were on the pegs the same time as the movie toys. But even with that effort, there was still at least one figure that never made it to stores in the U.S. at all. Animated Blackout had to be imported from Japan, the only place he had been released.

Forward to today, and we're seeing an even larger gap in "announced" toys that aren't being shipped to stores. Either the stores aren't ordering them because they're getting space cleared for the newest movie, or Hasbro has declined to produce them because they're making the toys from the newest movie. Either way, it could end up being a case of trying to hunt down rare figures as "exclusives" from a single retailer, OR, simply never seeing them in the U.S.

It's a shame, since many of the figures not being released in larger quantities were ones that long-time collectors were excited about. They tended to be characters based on the original series of toys from way back in 1984. There are three of the ill-fated "Power Core Combiner" line that I still need in order to complete that series on my shelves. It's almost like we suddenly have too much of a good thing... there are too many characters that Hasbro's trying to put into stores and they're starting to step on one another's release schedules. I finally started ordering some of my figures from Hasbro's online Toy Shop. But even there, not all of them are available to order... they either don't get enough stock to keep up with demand, or just don't get added.

So, for now, I'll just have to be content that I managed to snag Lugnut online, since he's an awesome figure! Much more articulation than I had expected, and very stable in robot mode. I'm used to most of the plane-based Transformers being back-heavy, because they invariably seem to have an entire tail section hanging off their backs. But this guy is rock-solid.

Reveal the Shield Lugnut
I'm also coming to the conclusion that I'm going to have to cut my collection pretty soon. Either stop buying new figures (which seems very unlikely to stick), or start selling some of my lesser-liked figures to make room for new ones. I'm just seeing less and less shelf space available each time I get a new character unpacked. I mean, my Primes and Megatrons are almost shoulder-to-shoulder right now!

Narrow Gap
I know that I can do some re-arranging of some of my figure layouts to gain a bit more space. But it's going to be a losing battle no matter what I do. Eventually, I'm going to run out of horizontal surfaces to safely display everybody. I have a feeling that the latest movie, Dark of the Moon, will test the remaining space I do have in the coming months...